This post is going to be a rather freeform ramble and may involve a few minor spoilers along the way, but I won’t say too much about the plot and story. I’d like to say up front that this is a really refreshing and entertaining take on a genre which is fast becoming quite dull – as one after another characters of comic books and graphic novels gone by are dusted off and given a new lease of life. It’s very nice to see some darker niches of the genre being explored and Amazon and Netflix certainly are mining more interesting seams than Hollywood at the moment.
The Boys on Amazon Prime Video is a streaming TV friendly adaptation of Garth Ennis’s graphic novel. Ennis was responsible for the excellent Constantine and the patchy Preacher series. I lost interest in Preacher after Season 2 really didn’t live up to the great debut season, and I have never read The Boys graphic novel. I have it on good account that it is quite filthy in places and that the TV show has toned down some of the less than female-friendly elements. I was intrigued by the show after watching a trailer and realising that, thank God, it wasn’t just another bloody ensemble superhero team story.
In a way it is, but this team called ‘The Seven’ is run by a big corporation and contains a variety of fucked up and/or corrupt members. Perhaps the worst and so most interesting character is the team leader Homelander. He is the show’s version of Superman if he was a complete nutcase. He can fly, has powerful laser vision and is super strong. He also likes breast milk and when he’s not killing people indiscriminately or trying to control the lives of the other members of the team, he’s like a little boy looking for the adoration of the people around him. Antony Starr is brilliant in the role and can flick from being utterly charming to being one of the creepiest characters I’ve seen on screen for years.
Alongside Homelander are the other ‘supes’ Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligoot) a Wonderwoman type character, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) a Flash type character, Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell) a Batman type character who gets far too little screen time, The Deep (Chace Crawford) an Aquaman character, Translucent (Alex Hassell) who as the name suggests is an invisible man, rookie Starlight (Erin Moriarty), who has electrically powered light-based powers, who is replacing Lamplighter who can summon flames at will. Lamplighter recently retired and new-starter Starlight is the viewers’ way into learning about this twisted version of DC’s Justice League.
Like the Sugababes, membership of The Seven is on a rolling basis, and in Season 2, for reasons that will become apparent if you watch the show, another supe called Stormfront (Aya Cash) is also recruited. Stormfront in the original comic was a bloke and so you can imagine some of the comments by the dweebs on the internet about that casting decision. She’s a bad-ass version of X-Men’s Storm with a chequered past which forms one of the main story points in Season 2. She’s also a dab hand at manipulating social media.
The titular Boys are a bunch of normal guys intent on bringing down The Seven. The leader of The Boys is Butcher (Karl Urban) a supposed cockney bad-boy with a foul mouth. I say supposed because his accent varies as much as Russel Crowe’s did in that Robin Hood movie. And I say foul-mouthed because without fail he drops at least one choice C-bomb per episode. If you don’t like bad language or graphic violence then you really are barking up the wrong tree with this show. Remember that scene in Game of Thrones were the cocky prince gets his head exploded by The Mountain? Well that kind of violent injury detail is pretty standard in this show.
Along with Butcher is, the parallel rookie to Starlight, Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) who provides us a lens through which to experience the bizarre methods of this ragtag team of special forces types. Family man Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) has known Butcher a long time and has to be convinced to re-join the team, whereas Frenchie (Tomer Capon) is well up for anything. Frenchie is your typical Luc Besson street-smart character who may at some point have driven a high-powered taxi through the streets of Paris. The boys are eventually joined by their very own supe in the form of the unbreakable Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) but I won’t give away how and why here. Her addition to the motley crew makes it a little more believable that The Boys, armed only with high powered weapons, IEDs and a crowbar, could even consider trying to take on the supes.
As you might imagine there’s a lot of piss-taking aimed at DC and Marvel characters and superhero tropes in general, but the show hides some interesting social commentary among the comic book capers. It touches upon subjects such as acceptance of the LBGT community, the #metoo movement, the role of large corporations in politics and the armed forces, gene therapy, the far right in America and big pharma. As such it is far more interesting meal than it first appears to be and a deeper dish than stablemate Preacher. Harder, grittier and just downright more gristly than Netflix’s equally popular graphic novel conversion The Umbrella Academy.
I’ve concentrated on the main characters in this post because I really think that this is what makes this show. They all come with their own collection of neurosis, bad attitudes and personal drivers and while these often reflect bigger issues at large in contemporary society they are no less realistic as human beings as a result. The show is a great ‘what if?’ show – what it superheroes were complete fuck-ups and arseholes, what then? Who comes to the rescue? The Boys that’s who…